Southland Christian Church in Lexington, Ky., held an event for the mentally and physically disabled community dubbed "Jesus Prom" over the past weekend that featured a night of celebration and compassion dedicated to those in attendance.
The annual free event drew 1,100 people decked in prom attire for the dinner, dance and night of fellowship. Pastor Brewster McLeod initiated the idea years ago when he served as the youth pastor with the purpose to reach those outside the walls of the church building and "value people on the margins of society."
According to Justin Meeker, communications director at Southland Christian Church, McLeod's vision for Jesus Prom is based on Luke 14:12-14, a verse about inviting "the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind" to a banquet.
"Here's a guy that truly believes everyone is as good as everyone else," said Steve Flairty, a columnist writer who attended the event, according to the Kentucky Kernel. "Brewster wants people with developmental disabilities to experience the same kind of activities that everyone else can."
Each year, the event is organized by 1,500 to 1,800 volunteers who escort the attendees throughout activities that include photography and games, while police and medical attention is on hand in case a special needs individual needs assistance. Typically, the megachurch transforms into a different theme venue, with this year being "Happy Days," which was reflected through poodle-skirt dresses worn by some attendees.
In addition to Jesus Prom and other outreach efforts for special-needs individuals, McLeod also hosts a weekly experience for learning and celebration on Sunday mornings as well as a monthly gathering for the community to build relationships.
In the 1990s, Jesus Prom was simply an idea that sparked McLeod to take action when he saw a greeting card with a picture of Jesus wearing a party hat. Around the same time, he also noticed that disabled people were not allowed in public schools let alone able to partake in activities that other students enjoy, like prom.
His outreach efforts began with members of his church's youth ministry who would visit the homes of the mentally and physically disabled, which sparked the desire to throw a party for them after interaction between the young adults and the special needs individuals.
In 2000, McLeod initiated the first event, which drew about 250 people, and now Jesus Prom garners over 1,000 participants each year and has spread to other states, including Virginia, California, Colorado and North Carolina.